Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at the careers of actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.
Usually, this column is a retrospective of actresses from the past and serves as a look back at their remarkable careers, but today we’re doing something different, as up today on LEADING LADIES it’s Mia Goth.
Goth is just starting her career, and she is enjoying enormous success, and since she is so young, just 29, I’m surmising that in the future there will be lots of updates to this column as her career continues. My favorite part of Goth’s roles thus far is that while she has appeared in numerous horror movies, she’s no scream queen. She’s usually the person causing the screaming!
So, let’s get started. Here’s a partial look at Mia Goth’s young career so far:
THE SURVIVALIST (2015)- Milja- Mia Goth’s first screen credit is in this thriller about a man who lives off the grid whose farm is discovered by a mother and a daughter, and what happens when he strikes a deal with them to live on his property.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016) – Hannah- this is the first movie in which I saw Mia Goth, a superior horror movie by writer/director Gore Verbinski about a wellness center that isn’t quite what it seems. Jason Isaacs plays the creepy doctor, while Goth plays a mysterious woman who resides there. Goth is terrific in the role and made an immediate impression, as she was one of the best parts of this film, which had the look and feel of a classic Hammer horror movie.
SUSPIRIA (2018) – Sara – supporting role in this remake of the horror classic. Also starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Chloe Grace Moretz.
EMMA (2020) – Harriet Smith- another supporting role in this version of the Jane Austen novel, starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role of Emma, and Bill Nighy. This was the last film I saw at the movie theaters before Covid shut everything down in March 2020. I found this one to be somewhat of a misfire, but Goth is very good in the film.
X (2022) – Maxine/Pearl – horror movie by writer/director Ti West features some of Goth’s best work as she plays dual roles here. The film is about a group of filmmakers in the 1970s who set out to make a porn film on a farm, but once the elderly farmers discover what they are doing, they become unhinged and react very badly as X becomes quite the bloody and violent horror movie. Goth plays two roles, Maxine, the young star who wants to make a porn film as a first step to becoming a famous actress, and Pearl, the elderly woman who owns the farm and who goes full blown Norman Bates in the film’s second half. One of the best horror movies from 2022, and Mia Goth is a major reason why.
PEARL (2022) – Pearl – Mia Goth reprises the role of Pearl in this Ti West prequel to X, in which we learn Pearl’s back story. I enjoyed X more than PEARL, but Mia Goth is once again tremendous and fascinating.
INFINITY POOL (2023) – Gabi – another fabulous performance by Mia Goth in another terrific horror movie, this one by writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, David Cronenberg’s son. Alexander Skarsgard plays a struggling novelist who vacations on a remote island with his wife hoping to beat back his writer’s block. There, he meets a young woman, Gabi, played by Mia Goth, who with her husband invites James the author and his wife out to dinner, claiming to be a fan of his work. As they get to know each other, Gabi leads James on a horrific odyssey that leads to violence, murder, and depravity. And if that’s not enough, she seduces him as well.
Next up for Mia Goth is the final installment of Ti West’s X trilogy, MAXXXINE, in which Goth will once again play Maxine in a story that will take place after the events in X. I can’t wait!
In such a short time, Mia Goth has become one of the most dynamic actresses working in horror movies today.
That’s it for now. Thanks for joining me for this edition of LEADING LADIES. Join me next time when we look at the career of another leading lady in the movies.
INFINITY POOL (2023), the new horror movie from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, is reminiscent of the works of the elder Cronenberg. It feels like a movie written and directed by David Cronenberg.
It’s a disturbing horror movie, the type that will have you feeling uncomfortable and on edge throughout. So, for my horror friends who hold this criterion as the gold standard for horror movies, they will no doubt really enjoy INFINITY POOL. While I’m totally okay with a movie that is disturbing, I am a story guy, and so if a film struggles with its story, usually it’s not going to work for me. The story told in INFINITY POOL is intriguing to be sure, at least at first, but as it goes along, it becomes far less interesting.
The main reason I wanted to see INFINITY POOL wasn’t because of Brandon Cronenberg, but because the film starred Mia Goth, one of my favorite actresses working today, especially actresses in horror movies. Goth has made her mark in such horror films as A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), X (2022), and its prequel PEARL (2022). While the story in INFINITY POOL may not have completely worked for me, Mia Goth is once again phenomenal in this movie. The best part about Goth in these horror films is that she’s no scream queen. She’s the one making others scream. Which is really, really cool. And scary!
INFINITY POOL with its ability to disturb and disgust also reminded me a little bit of the movie MIDSOMMAR (2019), in that it tells a story about people dealing with horrors in a foreign land with people they don’t quite understand, and that it’s a slow burn of a descent for the main character. I enjoyed MIDSOMMAR more, as it had a tighter story, but the two films share a similar vibe, even though INFINITY POOL is less of a slow burn and more of a methodical journey into pain and despair.
In INFINITY POOL, struggling author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing on a faraway island in the hopes that the time away will help James beat back his writer’s block. While there, James is approached by a young woman, Gabi (Mia Goth) who introduces herself as a fan of his first book. She invites James and Em to join her and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert) for dinner that evening. Dinner goes well, and Gabi and Alban next invite James and Em to join them for a ride to a secluded spot on the island. This is problematic because the island is extremely dangerous with a high crime rate against tourists, and so the resort forbids its guests to leave the premises. Em wants no part of this excursion, but James says he trusts the couple and convinces Em to take the trip.
Should have listened to your wife, James.
On the drive back, with James behind the wheel, they inadvertently strike and kill a man crossing the road. Em wants to call the police, but Gabi warns them that the police are corrupt, and if the law is called, the four of them will be arrested, the women raped, and they all will die. Gabi tells them to get back inside the car and that she and Alban will deal with everything in the morning. This plot point reminded me of a similar one in the movie THE FORGIVEN (2021), a much better movie by the way, where the same thing happens to characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain. The events in THE FORGIVEN took a much more realistic and believable path than the one taken here in INFINITY POOL.
Anyway, the next day James and Em are arrested and separated in a police jail. James is informed that the penalty for what he did is death, but…and here comes the big plot point— the government on the island isn’t interested in executing tourists, but to keep the locals in line, the perception of the execution must be kept. So… on this island they have perfected the ability to create “imposters,” beings who look exactly like the convicted criminal, and then that person is executed. All of this of course comes at a high monetary cost, which is why the government does it. And one more thing. James and Em must watch the execution. Of course, panicked, alone, and afraid, James agrees.
After the execution, Em wants to leave the island as quickly as possible, but James can’t find his passport, and Gabi explains that if James joins her and her friends again, they will help him find his passport, which they believe the police have taken. James agrees.
So far, the plot has been genuinely intriguing, and it’s around this point that James learns from Gabi and her friends that they are free to do whatever they want on the island, commit whatever crime, regardless of how violent, because they know they will not be executed. As long as they have money to pay the government, they are home free. Someone else will be executed instead… hence, the infinity pool. And it’s here where the film sort of becomes a GROUNDHOG DAY for horror movies.
It’s also here where I started to lose interest. When Em learns about this, she is horrified, but strangely, James is not. The point here that the film seems to be making is that James would rather be with Gabi and her friends than his wife, who the film implies is kinda part of the reason he’s experiencing writer’s block. This decision is all well and good for James, but as things continue, I cared less and less about the character. I stopped being interested in going along for the ride with him, mostly because each crime leads to more pain and horror at his expense at the hands of Gabi and her friends. The story just becomes an exercise in how much misery can one man take yet still somehow be open for more of the same.
There’s one point where the question is raised about the possibility that the imposter replaces the original person, and it’s the original person who is executed, because the imposter also receives the original person’s memories. But as one character points out, since you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, why does it even matter? This compelling plot point is touched upon only briefly and then sadly dismissed outright.
The result is that the second half of INFINITY POOL is much less compelling than its first half.
The best part of INFINITY POOL is for me Mia Goth. She’s terrific once again, and she makes Gabi quite the frightening woman. Gabi is the scariest part of this movie, mostly because she is a temptress, possessing the ability to convince James to trust her and pretty much do anything she wants him to do, and all of it is for her own satisfaction, with nothing at all to benefit him.
Alexander Skarsgard is also very good as James, although it ends up being a rather thankless role. The character becomes little more than a punching bag for Gabi and her buddies. He’s beaten to a pulp both literally and figuratively by film’s end. Which is another reason the second half of the film didn’t work as well for me. It was no fun watching a character get beat upon relentlessly and repeatedly. Even the fact that James chooses this fate doesn’t help. He purposely chooses to distance himself from his wife, which I get, but on the flip side, to keep agreeing with what Gabi was offering was frustrating to watch.
I can’t say I was a huge fan of the script by Brandon Cronenberg. It takes a rather clever concept and by film’s end doesn’t do a whole lot with it other than put its main character through hell. Cronenberg scores higher here as a director. The film works visually. Early on, you really get the feeling that these folks are in jeopardy in a foreign land. The sense of isolation, especially during the early scenes in the police jail, is palpable.
Later, when things get trippy, when Gabi introduces James to some island drugs, the film becomes appropriately dreamlike and nightmarish. There’s one sensual sequence in particular that is very effective, where Gabi and James start kissing, and an entire orgy seems to follow although one can’t quite tell what is real and what is imagined. Visually, I really enjoyed INFINITY POOL. The movie also scores highly for its ability to instill a sense of dread, foreboding, and disgust to its viewers. But its story doesn’t hold up all that well, nor does it go in a direction which takes full advantage of the possibilities it offers at the beginning.
PEARL (2022), the new horror movie by director/writer Ti West, is a prequel to his earlier horror movie from this year, X (2022), which so far is among my favorite horror movies of the year.
X told the story of a group of people setting out to make a porn movie on a farm, but their plans were thwarted by the elderly couple who owned the farm, who seemingly took offense to an X-rated movie being made on their property. The story took place in the 1970s, and the main character was a young woman named Maxine (Mia Goth), who was making the porn movie because she wanted to become a famous movie star. Goth also played the elderly farm owner Pearl (under heavy prosthetics and make-up), who in the words of PSYCHO’s Norman Bates, just “goes a little crazy” at times. Pearl, seemingly upset that these young people were having sex, while she and her elderly husband were not, flipped out and went on a brutal murder spree in the film’s final reel.
PEARL is her story, explaining a little bit of her history and how she became the person we saw in X.
PEARL takes place in 1918, during World War I, amid the pandemic of the Spanish flu, and when we meet Pearl (Mia Goth) she is living on her farm in Texas with her parents, her excruciatingly strict mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) who is now a mute invalid. Pearl’s husband Howard is away fighting in the war.
Life is hard. Money is tight, and Ruth believes they must make it on their own. She doesn’t trust other people, and she fears that their German ancestry will be held against them. However, making it “on their own” mostly involves making Pearl do all the difficult jobs, like feeding her invalid father and cleaning him after bowel movements. Pearl just wants to escape. She loves the movies and wants to become a dancer like she sees in the movies.
She befriends the local projectionist (David Corenswet) who encourages her to follow her dreams. He also introduces her to black market sex movies, which he says will become legal one day. When there’s a dance try-out at the local church, Pearl sees this as her chance to escape from the farmhouse. But her mother will have none of it, and she tells Pearl she’s a failure and she won’t succeed in her dreams. She also adds that she knows how Pearl really is, and that she sees the things Pearl does when she thinks no one is watching, and she pretty much tells Pearl that she’s not normal and that because of this she will frighten people and will never succeed.
Wow. Can someone say, Mommie Dearest?
Well, she’s not wrong, and when Pearl snaps later in the movie, we see just exactly how it is that Pearl frightens people.
PEARL is a decent follow-up to X, although I liked X better, as that film paid homage to the 1970s horror flicks as well as 1970s porn movies and captured the flavor of both. PEARL doesn’t have this added element. It takes place in 1918, but it’s not shot as an homage to that time period or to silent movies. It’s filmed in bright vibrant colors, which seem to embody Pearl’s wide-eyed hopes and dreams. At the end of the day, this one is about exactly what its title says it’s about, Pearl.
It’s all about Pearl. And to that end, it’s mildly interesting. Strangely, it almost feels like it’s a back story for the other character Mia Goth played in X, Maxine, as Maxine wanted to be a star more than anything. Here in PEARL, we see that Pearl too wants to be a star more than anything. It’s what drives her throughout this movie. When I saw X, I believed that the elderly Pearl flipped out over the characters making a porn movie because she and her husband could no longer have sex, and she wanted to have sex. That’s what the movie implied. I mean, we saw scenes of Pearl crawling into bed with Maxine. We didn’t see scenes of Pearl yearning to be a dancer.
Yet here in PEARL, that’s all Pearl wants, to be a dancer and to become famous, both in the hopes of getting off her farm. The sex angle is here, but it’s downplayed. There is one scene where Pearl has a romantic fantasy with a scarecrow, but when the projectionist shows Pearl the silent sex movie, she’s hardly aroused. Pearl behaves like any normal woman who’s longing for her husband to return would behave. While she displays various abnormalities, all of which lead to murder, her sex drive isn’t one of them. Yet, this is the side of her personality which seemed to be driving her to kill in X. But the events in PEARL say otherwise.
On the other hand, these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I just find it odd that Pearl in X didn’t speak of wanting to become a star or react to Maxine’s wanting to be a star, and that when we do see the beginnings of Pearl’s violent side here in PEARL, none of it has to do with sex, which was the prevalent theme in X.
The best and darkest scenes in PEARL are between Pearl and her mother, and these are the most disturbing and painful sequences in the movie. The sequence at the dinner table where the two characters eventually come to blows is the most powerful scene in the movie. The subsequent murders are well-staged and elaborate, but they’re not all that scary. The murders worked better in X.
PSYCHO was mentioned in X, and there were hints in that movie linking Pearl’s behavior to Norman Bates’, and so I was happy to see some more PSYCHO references here in PEARL. In PSYCHO, Bates hides his mother’s body in the fruit cellar. Here, Pearl hides her mother’s body in the root cellar.
The alligator is back and swimming in the waters around the farm, and Pearl seems to be its best friend, as she feeds it regularly. Technically, it could be the same alligator from X, but with 50 years between the two stories, it would be plenty old. It’s probably a different alligator. Either way, the alligators sequences in X were scarier.
X also had stronger characters.
Both films have Mia Goth though, and she’s terrific in both movies. I’ve been a fan of Goth’s since I first saw her in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), a horror movie I liked a lot. Goth is perfect as Pearl. At times, she seems so wide-eyed and innocent, and at others, she seems so very, very bad. Her expression during the last shot of the film, as the end credits begin, which is not a freeze frame, says it all, as we see the full gamut of emotions: surprise, happiness, tears, fear, and finally vulnerability and steadfastness. It’s a terrific performance. She’s the best part of the movie.
Goth also co-wrote the screenplay with Ti West, and it’s her first screenwriting credit. The script does a decent job explaining Pearl’s backstory, even if at times it seems as if it’s trying to tell Maxine’s backstory. The point I guess is that in X, Pearl would have seen a lot of herself in Maxine. But the overall composition of the film isn’t quite as solid as X, which had better characters and also served as an homage to two film types, 1970s horror and porn.
Tandi Wright is icy cold as Pearl’s mother Ruth, and I’m tempted to say the audience won’t feel much sympathy for her when she gets her comeuppance, but in that aforementioned sequence at the dinner table, when tempers flare, Ruth unleashes and lets out how unhappy she is now, and that she is supposed to be a wife not a mother to her husband. Wright allows the audience to see how she became the heartless woman she is in the movie.
David Corenswet is dashing as the confident young projectionist. He’s also one of the more underutilized characters in the story, as for a time it seemed as if he was going to have more of an impact with Pearl, but that’s not the case.
Ti West films PEARL with big bold bright swipes, embodying Pearl’s hopes and dreams, and so this one doesn’t look like a horror film. The violence and murders don’t come until late in the game, and they grow more gruesome as they go along, although none here are quite as powerful as the sequences found in X.
PEARL is a decent prequel, and although it’s not as good as X, it’s still a showcase for Mia Goth, and she’s the reason to see this movie, as her performance brings Pearl and all her madness to insane painful life.